Ship Technology

Cleaning up ports: from Oslo to California

From underwater drones in Norway to an Australian-designed floating rubbish bin, tech companies and port authorities are increasingly linking up to clean up waterways and tackle air pollution. What are the most pioneering projects and what role can local communities play in creating change?

Its head and flipper can be seen trapped in a tatty blue plastic bag, its skin lacerated, discoloured and bloody. On Twitter, the gory photo of a dead, beached dolphin elicited a furious response: “Criminal behaviour,” said one user; “the oceans can’t wait much longer,” said another.

The viral image – taken last year by a marine biologist on a litter-strewn shore in Oslo – sent social media in Norway into a frenzy, igniting a wider public conversation about the pollution of water and air that environmentalists had warned about for years.

Shortly after the picture was taken – and partly because of it – Oslo’s Port Authority approved a pioneering new litter-removal plan. The clean-up operation involves underwater drones that scan water for trash such as fishing gear, cage traps, tires, bikes and cars before divers or electric-powered ships swoop in to remove them.

Trash-eating drones and floating rubbish bins

The Oslo operation is among a number of clean-up projects involving ports that are designed to tackle pollution in underwater areas – a growing problem caused by a range of factors, from the transfer of alien species through ballast water, to the dumping of waste and release of oils and chemicals through accidental spills.

“There are a lot of ports out there that are trying to look at innovative ways to clean up the waters,” says Elena Craft, senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a US-based non-profit environmental advocacy group.

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